Rugby World Cup: Scotland ‘won’t die wondering’, Jamie Ritchie discusses absence and Ben Healy omission addressed
Not many are giving them much of a chance against Ireland on Saturday. Not many believe they can defeat the world’s best team by enough points to pip them for a place in the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals. The captain is considering using it as motivational fuel ahead of what he describes as “the biggest game of his career”. But he knows they’ll need more than that. Scotland, he says, will require every weapon in their armoury and to play possibly their best ever game to stop the Irish juggernaut.
“If we lose the game, we’re going home,” said the captain. “We’ve been written off against the top two teams in the world but, for us, we’re not going to die wondering, we’ve got to fire every bullet in our gun and we’ve got to go out there and play our best game and it is in our hands now. So, the pressure is off in that sense in that we know where we stand and we’re not relying on anyone else other than ourselves."
A win alone will not be enough in Paris. To qualify from Pool B at the expense of Ireland, Scotland will need to beat them and deny them a bonus point in the process. An eight-point victory will be enough, provided Ireland don't score four tries. “As long as we put our best performance out there then if that’s not enough there is nothing else we could have done,” said Ritchie. “For me, that’s quite a freeing thought – that if we go out there and play to the best of our ability and if that’s not enough then it’s not enough. But I fully believe in this group of men and I know that if we put in our best performance then we are in with a shot.”
Scotland haven't beaten Ireland since 2017 and have lost all eight games they’ve played against them under Gregor Townsend. It’s perhaps not surprising the Scots will be massive underdogs at the Stade de France. “We’re super determined,” said a defiant Ritchie. “We were written off by a lot of people going into this pool. It was always going to be tough for us to get out of it, but we very much have the belief and it’s still there ready for Saturday. We believe we can go there, do enough to get out of the pool and keep our World Cup alive.”
Asked if he had used the words of the detractors to fire up the squad, Ritchie said: “Not early in the week, but I might use it before the game. We’ll wait and see. Our motivation is very much internal. Our belief and where we gain our motivation is what we think of ourselves and how we gee each other up. The external noise can be fickle so taking motivation from there can be difficult. For us, it’s about our environment and our group.”
Ritchie will return on Saturday to captain the team after a 12-day stand-down period following the concussion he sustained against Tonga. He was the victim of a wild tackle by winger Afusipa Taumoepeau but has recovered to take his place in the back row alongside Rory Darge and Jack Dempsey as Gregor Townsend reverts to the team that lost to South Africa in the opening match, apart from a change at scrum-half where Ali Price replaces Ben White.
“I was as always comfortable I was going to be back and ready,” said the flanker. “I’ve had a couple [of concussions] now so I’m on the 12-day turnarounds, but I knew that would be enough time. I was feeling fine after the game so it was probably one of those ones where we were erring on the side of caution in me being taken off. It was probably the right decision but after the game I felt absolutely fine and passed all my stuff and was ready to go.”
Having lost 18-3 to South Africa, then beaten both Tonga and Romania with a bonus point, Scotland are on 10 points, four behind Ireland who defeated the Springboks in a formidable battle in Paris. South Africa top the group on 15 points but have played all their games and the reality is that Scotland need snookers to claim one of the top two places in Pool B.
Essentially, Townsend is keeping faith with the side that lost to the holders in Marseille but he admitted he thought about a place on the bench for back-up stand-off Ben Healy whose accuracy with the boot could have been a useful weapon late on in the quest to beat Ireland by eight points. “Yes, that was a consideration,” said the coach, whose decision to go for a six-two split of forwards and backs on the bench effectively nixed the idea. “At five-three, Ben would have been a strong contender to be in the three backs subs. He's been excellent throughout this whole campaign, from training to games. We know that having another 10 on the bench would be a positive if we were to pick up an injury at 10 but we obviously don't want that scenario to occur and we believe Finn [Russell] will play well and will be on until the 80th minute.”
Drop goals could come into play and the otherwise excellent Russell spoke earlier this week about his shortcoming in this department, but the coach has faith in him, should he be required to step up. “He looked quite good in training knocking them over so you [the media] have obviously inspired him to get out there and practise,” joked Townsend. “Finn, Blair Kinghorn, who knows. These are all hypotheticals. The most important thing is we work hard for every point we can earn and we take every opportunity in the 22.”
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